Designed to survive cyclone force winds of 230 km/h
A New Zealand company is spearheading a pioneering project to transform the diesel-dependant South Pacific nation of Tokelau into the world’s first solar-powered country.
Powersmart Solar is lead contractor on the Tokelau Renewable Energy Project (TREP). This winter, the island nation’s diesel generators are being replaced with 4032 solar panels (one megawatt of solar), 392 inverters, and 1344 batteries (each weighing 250kg).
Powersmart director Mike Bassett-Smith says the TREP will enable Tokelau to be the first country to meet 100 per cent of its climate change obligations, while becoming the first wholly solar-powered nation on earth.
At present the country’s diesel generators burn around 200 litres of fuel daily – 2000 barrels a year shipped in from New Zealand at an annual cost of NZ$1million and considerable environmental impact. Tokelau’s population of 1400 can count on only 15 to 18 hours of electricity each day.
Tokelau’s solar power system, designed to survive cyclone force winds of 230 km/h, is due to go live following a commissioning ceremony late in September. It will provide 24-hour electricity and Tokelau will only need fossil fuel for its tiny fleet of three cars.
The solar power plant is spread across Tokelau’s three atolls – Fakaofo, Nukunonu, and Atafu. Powersmart’s custom-designed solar system will provide 150 per cent of the nation’s current electricity demand, allowing Tokelauans to expand electricity use without increasing diesel demand.
Diesel-dependence is just one environmental calamity in a country where drought has necessitated the importation of water via costly, environmentally-taxing shipping and every imported product (and person) must travel two days by boat from Samoa.
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) says Pacific Island countries are among the most petroleum-dependent nations and territories in the world. The UNDP contributed around US$450,000 and significant technical support over 11 years towards the goal of solar powering Tokelau. The Government of Tokelau also leveraged approximately NZ$8.5 million (US$ 6.8 million) in grants and soft loans from New Zealand for the TREP.
Tokelau’s government estimates the country will save 12,000 tonnes of CO2 over the life of the solar power plant. During periods of prolonged cloud cover, generators that run on coconut oil will supply power and simultaneously recharge the battery bank.
Powersmart has six staff currently in Tokelau. Bassett-Smith says the company prides itself on extreme efficiency and thorough systems. In an isolated environment like Tokelau, mistakes are costly.
Tokelauans have provided the manpower for the project; learning new skills specific to the building, care and running of a solar power scheme.
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